▪ Wichita State wins a lot of games because it makes fewer mistakes than its opponents. Evan Wessel is a part of that, because he is almost always in the right place and rarely turns the ball over. You’re not going to get much flashy offense from Wessel, but you’re also not going to get flashy turnovers and that is a tradeoff coach Gregg Marshall will make.
Wessel has three turnovers in 172 minutes. Rashard Kelly, his most likely replacement, has 11 in 143. And those stats don’t include screens, cuts and a handoffs made at the right time and the right place to help other players. Wessel, a junior, owns the experience and savvy to execute smoothly. He is shooting well from three-point range (8 of 21) and his offensive rebounds are crucial. The split with Wessel and Kelly works well at power forward because they complement each other.
Wessel said he hasn’t been given a timetable for his return from a sprained right ankle. Based on the fact he isn’t close to practicting, it doesn’t appear likely he will play in Hawaii.
There is a segment of fans (I don’t know how many, but I hear from some) who can’t wait for a bigger, faster, bouncier athlete to take over for Wessel. They will get their wish starting today. Fortunately, Loyola Marymount should be the kind of opponent Wessel’s replacements can hold their own against and start the learning curve.
WSU will have to go deeper into its bench without Wessel, which means players such as Corey Henderson Jr., Ruano Nurger and Bush Wamukota are on call. Can Henderson play enough defense to make his shooting ability matter? Can Nurger rebound and rebound so WSU can use his scoring skills? Can Wamukota get to the right places at the right times so WSU can benefit from his height?
▪ Loyola Marymount’s Evan Payne is one of the busiest players in the nation. He uses 34.6 percent of his team’s possessions (ending them with a shot or turnover). That ranks fifth in the nation. Darius Carter is WSU’s highest-usage player at 28 percent (No. 135).
Payne has taken 117 of LMU’s 441 shots and scored 181 of its 539 points. No other Lion has more than 64 points or averages double figures.
And Payne does all that in 28.5 minutes a game.
▪ Shockers trainer Todd Fagan is pushing the fluids in this humid climate. A long plane trip also lends itself to dehydration.
▪ Because it’s a tournament, there has to be decals on the floor. Those decals are inevitably slippery. During Sunday’s practice, several Shockers slipped and Marshall told them to avoid that area of the court. I’m not sure if he was serious.
Isn’t there a way to make those decals with traction?
▪ The MVC moved up from No. 11 to No. 8 in the RPI rankings. Northern Iowa is in great shape for an at-large bid. Illinois State has played a tough schedule and its RPI is No. 52. Evansville is No. 81 and Loyola (No. 121) is a pleasant surprise.
That is the good news.
The bad news is four teams are No. 277 or lower and that is going to make for the potential for RPI-killing upsets in January and February. If the Valley gets two NCAA teams, the season can be judged a success. But the long-term view isn’t as upbeat if schools such as Bradley and Southern Illinois are in the bottom of the RPI.